The Disappearance of Desirea Ferris

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EARLY LIFE:

Desirea Ann Ferris was born on February 11, 1999. Her parents divorced when she was just a toddler, and when her father remarried her extended family grew to include nine siblings and step-siblings.

Desirea was known for her bubbly and warm personality. She was described as being a one-of-a-kind person who could make everyone around her smile with her vibrancy. An aspiring model, her family hoped she would one day become a childcare worker or teacher.

Given how outgoing she was, Desirea was known to be too trusting of others and would always give people the benefit of the doubt. As such, she’d begun to spend time with people her mother, Patti Tam, felt were members of the wrong crowd, but she assured her that she wasn’t adopting their illicit behaviours.

Patti and Desirea were extremely close, with the young girl known to those around her as a mama’s girl. The pair would often watch TV together and were known to text often, usually multiple times a day. Unfortunately, Desirea would go missing the night before her mother’s birthday.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

During the early hours of May 1, 2017, Desirea and her sister were picked up from their home in Liberty, Missouri by a man by the name of Robert Jason Keegan. The trio spent the majority of the day together, visiting three different locations, including abandoned houses known for drug activity.

At around 4:30pm, Keegan dropped the girls off at a McDonald’s at 31st Street and Van Brunt Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri. From there, a man named Mark Arzola, who was known for being in and out of prison, picked the pair up and drove them to another McDonald’s location along Route 291 in Liberty. From here, the stories begin to differ. While some accounts state that Desirea’s sister was dropped off at the family home, others say she got out of the car at the McDonald’s, while Desirea and Arzola drove away.

According to reports, Arzola and/or Keegan were supposed to drop Desirea off at a friend’s house, but she never arrived. She instead went to Arzola’s house, located in the Marlborough neighbourhood of Kansas City, an area known for drug activity and for being high-risk.

At around 1:00am on May 2, Desirea texted her sister to inform her she was on her way home. About an hour later, she made a phone call to an unknown person, someone she would later text a few hours later. Before that text, at 3am, Desirea last accessed her Facebook account via her cellphone.

DISAPPEARANCE:

At first, her mother says it didn’t really sink in that anything was amiss, until the next night when she took a look at her Verizon account, which Desirea’s phone was under, and saw all activity from her daughter had ceased the morning of May 2.  This was unusual, as she was in constant contact with her loved ones.

With her concern growing, Patti attempted to contact her daughter, but found all her calls went directly to voicemail. As such, after three days, she officially reported Desirea as missing to authorities.

SEARCH:

Patti believes Desirea and her sister were planning a surprise birthday party for her on the day her daughter went missing. Desirea had left a birthday card on her pillow and the girls had purchased ingredients to bake a cake.

Despite knowing of the men who Desirea is reported to have been with and warning her daughter about them, Patti had never actually met Robert Keegan or Mark Arzola in person. Despite their friendship, she was not involved in drugs and her family doesn’t believe she died of a possible overdose, which has been suggested by some with knowledge of the case.

Throughout the early stages of the investigation, the family was in daily contact with the authorities. They would also team up with volunteers to distribute flyers across Kansas City.

Throughout May 2017, numerous searches were conducted. One such search included the wooded area around Blue River Road and Bannister Road, after an employee at the Phillips 66 gas station at Bannister Road and Holmes Road said she’d seen Desirea on the night of May 2. According to the employee, she’d bought alcohol and was in the company of a man. Cellphone pings would also result in searches of the areas around Grandview Road and Trolley Trail, along with three abandoned houses, located at 83rd Street and Hillcrest Road, 93rd Street and Grandview Road, and Oakley Avenue and East 27th Terrace. However, no evidence was uncovered.

In June 2017, another search was conducted, this time along a 2 to 3 mile stretch of the southwest area of Swope Park, after numerous tips were called in by potential witnesses who claimed to have seen her in the area. Despite roughly 80 people being involved, including friends, family and volunteers from out-of-state organizations, no sign of Desirea could be found.

Since her disappearance, all activity has ceased on Desirea’s social media accounts.

To try and gain some leads in the case, investigators interviewed the group of friends the missing girl was with on the night she went missing. One such person was Mark Arzola, who claimed the two of them drove to his house at 8111 Highland Avenue in south Kansas City after dropping off Desirea’s sister. According to Arzola, they were together until around 1:30am on May 2, after which she left in a white pickup truck, whose driver he couldn’t see. After this, the pair texted until around 2:35am, where they discussed clothes Desirea had left at his house.

According to investigators, there are numerous discrepancies in Arzola’s story. The first is that he told Desirea’s stepmother, Jennifer Ferris, that he and Desirea had gone to the soccer field off Blue River Road before driving to his house. This is also supported by Patti, who claims Arzola told her that he and Desirea sat in his car in a parking lot for a while before going to Highland Avenue. The second inconsistency surrounds the time frame Desirea left the residence, with police believing she’d actually left before midnight and not around 1:30am like Arzola claims.

Police also spoke with Keegan after he and five other people were arrested in a separate investigation into a meth and weapons conspiracy just days after Desirea went missing. Facing 18 years in federal prison on the charges, he told investigators that he had picked Desirea up from Arzola’s house in his Ford F-150 and dropped her off at 73rd Street and Troost Avenue. Court records would reveal more aspects of his story, with text messages between the two showing he had actually been the one to drop her off in the Marlborough neighbourhood on May 1, not Arzola. According to investigators, the pair exchanged 23 texts that night between 10:20pm and 10:58pm, and Facebook messages would later show she’d told him she wanted to go home.

Hoping to uncover a more thorough timeline, Jennifer emailed the detective in charge of the investigation and asked for Desirea’s phone records, from which the family was able to make a map of her movements on May 1 and 2. While some pings are believed to be missing, the timeline is as follows:

May 1, 2017

  • 4:00am – Her cellphone pings at her home in Liberty, Missouri.
  • 4:00pm – Her cellphone pings near East 27th Street and Cleveland Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri.
  • 4:30pm – Her cellphone pings near East 30th Terrace and Van Brunt Boulevard.
  • 5:25pm – Her cellphone pings once again in the area near the family home in Liberty.
  • 5:46pm – Her cellphone pings near 700 North Church Road in Liberty.
  • Between 7:00pm and 8:00pm – Her cellphone pings in the area of Holmes Road and I-435.
  • 9:00pm – Her cellphone pings near the Oakwood neighbourhood, just off I-71 in south Kansas City.
  • 10:45pm – Her cellphone pings near West 124th Street and Wornall Road in south Kansas City.

May 2, 2017

  • Between 1:00am and 2:00am – Her cellphone pings near East 75th Street and Prospect Avenue.
  • Between 3:00am and 3:14am – Her cellphone pings near East 43rd Street South and Washington Avenue in Independence, Missouri.
  • 4:00am – Her cellphone pings near East 83rd Street and Hillcrest Road in Kansas City.

Her family believes those connected to the drug house on East 83rd Street and Hillcrest Road harmed Desirea. In August 2017, they visited the neighbourhood, but no one came to the door when they approached the house.

In July 2017, the status of Desirea’s case was changed to “endangered”, which happens with investigators suspect her physical safety is in jeopardy. To help bring about leads in the case, her family offered a $200 reward per month for up to one year to anyone with information regarding Desirea’s location.

To honour the missing girl, her family held a balloon release and prayer vigil at the family home in Kearney in November 2017. They would repeat this ceremony in May 2019, on the second anniversary of Desirea’s disappearance.

In January 2018, investigators obtained access to five files from Desirea’s online accounts. However, given the nature of the investigation, they have been unable to share what was uncovered.

To help raise money for continued searches, the family has held numerous fundraisers, which include bingo, silent auctions and raffles. They’ve also held a spaghetti dinner, with the plan of purchasing more resources for those helping to search for Desirea.

As the case drew on, the family formed Desirea’s Army, a group of supporters dedicated to conducting searches and investigating potential leads. Through their independent investigation, they uncovered a vast web of drugs and crime within Kansas City. They were also able to track down those who say they know what happened to the missing girl.

In February 2018, investigators filed a search warrant, wherein they asked for access to her phone and email accounts. Similar to the previous search of her online files, they would not reveal what they uncovered.

There have been several reported sightings of Desirea outside of Kansas City and in locations out-of-state. However, none have been confirmed.

In March 2018, several digital billboards were put up around Kansas City, featuring Desirea’s face and information, in the hopes of generating new leads. That same month, volunteers used drones to scour the metro area of the city for any signs of the missing girl, based on tips that had been called in. However, they came up empty.

A memorial walk was held for Desirea at Center Elementary School in April 2018. A month later, the family held a candlelight vigil at 85th Street and Brooklyn Avenue.

Her family has shared that an eyewitness saw Desirea’s body in the front passenger seat of the white pickup truck while it was in the driveway of the house on Highland Avenue. While the witness wasn’t aware of how she’d died, another story states her body was then placed in a barrel and covered in concrete, before being dumped in a nearby water source. This version of events has not been verified by the authorities, and an underwater search by members of Desirea’s Army came up empty.

Desirea’s family feels great anxiety whenever human remains are found in the area. While her mother finds herself hoping they belong to her daughter, so that she can bring her home, she has shared her heart sinks at the news of the discovery of an unidentified body.

In August 2018, Patti received a text from an unknown person, saying Desirea had been kidnapped and forced into child sex trafficking. The message told her that her daughter would only be returned home if she paid a ransom of $2,000, made up of money and Apple gift cards, that was to be sent to an address in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Despite being told to not contact the authorities, as the sender threatened Desirea’s life if such contact was made, Patti informed the family’s private investigator, who found out the text was a scam. While the phone number had a Connecticut area code, the IP address traced back to India.

In September 2018, the family held a vigil at the Jackson County Courthouse in an attempt to demand accountability from those working there. It not only honoured Desirea, but those who were missing or died under suspicious circumstances and those whose killers had not yet been brought to justice, and many families were in attendance. A similar ceremony was held two months later, with said families asking for help, communication and acknowledgement of the injustices they’ve faced.

A month later, volunteers with The Big Search KC canvassed Kansas City in order to raise awareness for those missing in the area. The search would occur again in October 2019, and volunteers visited numerous businesses while handing out information booklets. The Big Search is a national search effort organized by F.R.E.E. International and KlassKIDS, non-profits dedicated to locating missing children and ending human trafficking, and searches occur throughout the United States each year.

Investigators have shared that there are people who are currently incarcerated for federal offences who know more than they’re saying, but they’re unable to name them due to the ongoing nature of the investigation. As many have invoked their Miranda rights, they most likely have not disclosed all they know.

In January 2020, the family set up their one tip line, where people could anonymously call in tips, which would then be forwarded to law enforcement. That same month, they announced that they’d pinpointed one of Desirea’s last cellphone pings, near a cell tower located by I-70 and Nolan Road in Independence, Missouri at 3:14am on May 2, 2017. They were also able to confirm that an unnamed person’s cellphone pinged in the same area until Desirea’s phone was shut off, leading the family and investigators to believe said individual was one of the last people to see the missing girl.

Investigators have shared that one of the biggest challenges in the case is that the Liberty Police Department is located on the northeast side of Kansas City, while the case is being investigated in the city’s southend, outside of their jurisdiction. Despite these hurdles, they’ve received assistance from the Kansas City Police Department, federal law enforcement and other area law enforcement agencies and have helped to coordinate a flow of communication with them and the family.

Tips continue to be called in and the case remains active. It’s said that hundreds of leads have been investigated and that hundreds of people have been interviewed, resulting in a narrow list of potential persons of interest. However, no one has been arrested in connection to the case.

There’s currently a $12,500 reward available in relation to the case, an amount that has been increased from $10,000 and $4,000 over the years.

Desirea’s family continues to search for her, retrace her steps and investigate tips. While they hold out hope they’ll find her, it’s their assumption that she’s currently deceased. Despite feeling as if the case has taken a backseat for investigators, they remain in constant contact with police.

THEORIES:

1) A primary theory in the case is that Desirea is currently deceased and that Robert Keegan and/or Mark Arzola were involved. This is corroborated by the potential eyewitness sighting of Desirea’s body in the front seat of Keegan’s pickup truck, and is suggested through the inconsistencies in both his and Arzola’s accounts, as well as by the area where she was last seen. However, as Desirea’s body has never been located and little evidence has been uncovered, it’s hard to say for certain if the pair were involved.

2) A theory that has since been shot down is that Desirea ran away from home. Those investigating the case don’t believe she did this, as it is out-of-character for her to be out of contact with her family for such a long period of time. As well, the leads that have been uncovered don’t indicate she ran away by herself or with someone else.

3) A final theory posited in the case states that Desirea was sold into the sex trade. While there hasn’t been any evidence uncovered to support this theory, it’s one that has been suggested by web sleuths and those conducting their own analysis of the investigation.

AFTERMATH:

In order to raise awareness about the case, Desirea’s family has created two Facebook pages. The first is called Missing: Desirea Ferris, which solely focusses on the young girl’s disappearance, while the second is Desi’s Voice: Speaking For Those Who Can’t, which aims to raise awareness about other missing persons cases.

The members of Desi’s Voice helped raise $1,550 to help pay for a headstone for Marco Green, a 28-year-old man who was murdered in October 2017.

Desirea’s disappearance has been broadcast nationwide, with appearances on Crime Watch Daily, The Missing and the Maury Show, as well as in a feature for People Magazine.

Patti shares that she spends a lot of time in Desirea’s room, as it allows her to feel close to her daughter. It has remained the same as on the day she disappeared.

Desirea’s family has made the porch light of their home pink, the missing girl’s favourite colour, as a symbol of hope that she’ll one day return home.

Patti no longer celebrates her birthday, as it’s a reminder of the last time she saw her daughter.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Desirea “Desi” Ann Ferris went missing from Liberty, Clay County, Missouri on May 2, 2017. She was 18 years old and was last seen wearing a white- or cream-coloured crop top; a fuzzy pink jacket; and sweatpants. She was carrying a tan purse. At the time of her disappearance, she stood at 5’1″ and weighed approximately 95 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes. She has a birthmark on her abdomen, near her navel, and a 1 1/2″ scar on her left arm.

Currently, her case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, she would be 21 years old.

Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Liberty Police Department at 816-439-4701 or the family’s tip line at 816-945-2722. Tips can also be called in to the Missouri State Highway Patrol at 573-526-6178 or Crime Stoppers at 816-474-8477.

Image Credit: The Vanished Podcast

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